Nick Poppy at the New York Post offers a piece on a new book about an Italian-American police officer who fought the Black Hand.
The terror might come in the mail, or in an envelope slipped under the door. Or a note tacked to the wall. Pay up, it would say. Give us the money. Or your child dies. Go to the police, your child dies.
The letter would be unsigned. But everyone would know who had sent it: the dreaded Society of the Black Hand, a shadowy criminal organization that targeted Italian immigrants to the US in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The recipients of such a note had few options. If they did nothing, the Society might make good on its promises. Its threats weren’t empty — the Society was responsible for bombings, arson, kidnappings and murders. The Society’s targets could meet the extortioners’ exorbitant demands, and pay the hard-earned ransom — though inevitably, that would lead to demands for more money.
Because they were immigrants and because they were Italian, Black Hand victims typically could count on little help from officials. In New York, the bulwark against Black Hand was extraordinarily thin, but also very tough. It consisted chiefly of one man: a dark-suited, opera-loving bruiser of a cop with a photographic memory, a sixth grade education and fists like iron, named Joseph (Giuseppe) Petrosino.
For more than 20 years, Petrosino waged an almost single-handed war against the Society of the Black Hand. It was as much a war for the place of Italian immigrants in American society, for their rights to exist and to be seen as Americans worthy of legal protection.
It’s a story recounted in Stephen Talty’s engrossing new book, “The Black Hand: The Epic War Between a Brilliant Detective and the Deadliest Secret Society in American History” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).
You can read the rest of the piece via the below link: